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Budget Statement 2018 (Continued)

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 960 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett] Welcome as it may be for children with disabilities, it still does not come anywhere near the necessary increase in cross-departmental expenditure in jobs, health, public transport and education. In its pre-budget submission, the Disability Federation of Ireland stated this increase should come to around €150 million. In reality, it would need to be more to even begin to move towards ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

There are the miserable crumbs of a €5 tax break for the average worker or an additional €5 for those getting social protection payments. Some of the case studies in the Budget Statement are completely disingenuous. For example, the case of the average public sector worker includes the Lansdowne Road agreement payments. If one strips out these payments, which were already committed to some time ago, some public sector workers will end up getting less net pay than what they got prior to the budget because of the increased tax they will have to pay. There is nothing in any way meaningful for workers in this increase.

The report on living standards of single parents showed 52% of lone parents are financially worse off than they were before the former Minister, Deputy Burton's, budgetary cuts or the so-called labour activation cuts. On the radio this morning, I heard the Minister for Employment and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, say there might have been a few problems on the edges of them, but fundamentally, they were a success in that they increased labour activation. I must point out to the Minister that, after this budget, a lone parent who works 20 hours a week will be €60 a week worse off than they were in 2012, when Deputy Burton made those infamous cuts attacking lone parents.

The former Fine Gael-Labour Party Government imposed the vicious cut of cutting in half young people's entitlements to jobseeker's allowance. Now they will get an extra €5. That is against payments, however, which were cut by 40% to 50% since 2012, driving many of young people out of the country, into poverty and deprivation or, in many cases, into homelessness.

Even for those who might be celebrating - I doubt anybody is however - the extra €5 will be wiped out by increases in bin charges, property taxes, utility bills and the public service obligation, as well as a 60% increase in motor insurance charges, increases in accident and emergency charges from €60 to €100 and inpatient overnight stay charges from €60 to €80. One can go on through the list. These miserable increases are all wiped out by these extra charges.

There is nothing on what the former Minister, now Taoiseach, promised on pension inequality suffered by 30,000 mostly female pensioners due to the changes to the bands made by the then Minister, Deputy Burton, in 2012 and the gap in the homemaker's scheme, which means they get lower pensions than others. This is a cohort which will grow. When the Taoiseach was Minister for Social Protection, he promised he would deal with it. He said it again recently in the Dáil but there is nothing in the Budget Statement to deal with this inequality for pensioners.

Child care was the big ticket item last year but has turned out to be a hoax. Do Members remember the allocation then? There was an allocation of €35 million for the single affordable child care scheme to start from September 2017. If €35 million was necessary to fund the scheme from September 2017 to the end of 2017, how can the additional funding for 2018 be only €20 million? It does not make any sense. To make it a year-round scheme based on last year's figures, it would have to three times €35 million, namely, €105 million. How is it going to be funded? It is not even going to happen because it is dependent on capacity in the private child care system, which does not exist, as well as on private child care providers being willing to provide the care, which they are not doing. Nothing has been done about the low pay or conditions for child care workers either. The point has not been made yet that the child care allocation does not add up to be sufficient, as I have calculated, to actually meet the promises made with a big fanfare last year on how we would deal with the extortionate and exorbitant costs of child care.

Marginal moves have been made on the pupil-teacher ratio. We are still, however, at the worst end of the European league tables for class sizes. We now get a miserable reduction in the pupil-teacher ratio but, again, it is dependent on the Government being able to recruit teachers when new entrants suffer pay inequality and pay apartheid. While there is a small increase in special needs assistants and special education teaching resources, it must be remembered that an additional 10,000 schoolchildren enter the school system every year. Accordingly, the additional teachers will be more than absorbed by the number of new students entering the education system.

Third level students got zero. Nothing will be done about the extortionate registration fees of €2,500 and €5,500 for a masters degree. Not a single extra cent will be given for student grants. How are students on these miserable grants supposed to be able to afford accommodation? If they do, it is tenement accommodation.

The €12 million extra to the arts is pathetic. That is still less than what we forked out in 2016 when we did a one-off increase in expenditure in the arts of an extra €50 million, which proved to be a success. It was reduced last year and this year, we still have not got up to the spend in 2016, which, in any event, is a miserable percentage when compared with the spend of our European counterparts. For a Government that often prides itself on jobs, it ignores the arts, an area in which we could create thousands of jobs if we invested seriously in the film industry, theatre, community arts and across the sector. We have talent in abundance in this sector with people working for nothing in many cases. If they were paid properly and if there was proper investment, we could generate a significant and sustainable domestic industry in all arts sectors.

The provision for dealing with climate change is, again, miserable. There is a few quid on the benefit-in-kind for company cars to switch over to electric cars, which will benefit private companies by the way. A few miserable extra quid is provided for the renewable energy incentive scheme. It is miserable compared with the scale of what is necessary if we are to avoid billions of euro in fines for our failure to meet climate change targets. Against a background where CO2 emissions are actually still increasing in Ireland and we have no chance of meeting reduction targets, this is pathetic. Where is the significant increase in investment in public transport? Where are the incentives for people to use public transport by cutting fares? As we suggested, cutting fares would not cost that much. If fares were cut by 50%, people would get out of their cars. Better still, if we made public transport free, people would certainly get out of their cars. To do that, the Government would have to increase the subvention to public transport significantly and to ramp up investment in public transport infrastructure.

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